I remember talking about it with friends. I didn’t want to teach kids to use Scratch. Scratch was ok, but I wanted to teach them how to code in Java. Even more, I wanted to teach them what it was to compile code and what a Compiler was. People thought that the content would not resonate with Grade 4’s. And that was the polite comment. 🙂
So here I was in the third Minecraft Code Club session but I dearly wanted to cover compilation. How to do best do it though?
What I did was start a discussion with the kids about how we read books, but computers read hex codes. I actually showed them some hex dumps. I know, I know – could be considered a punishment, but I kept it brief. In a few of those wonderful hex dumps, they had the additional column to the right that translates the hex codes into readable text to help the humans. Most of the kids got it that the two types of text could hold the same information.
And then drew the analogy that a Compiler was just a computer program that translates our code in words into the computers hex code. I know it is a vast oversimplification, but it resounded with most of them and I saw nodding heads. Feeling the opportunity, I then referred back to our first class where we talked about working with Minecraft Plugins was like giving a needle to the Minecraft program! Compiling a program is the action of giving that needle to the program. That is how we do it. Again a vast oversimplification, but probably appropriate for this level of knowledge.
I waited and watched – there still seemed to be acceptance of that could be right. Not wanting to push it any further we went on to the exercise of spawning an Enderdragon by modifying some code and compiling the code on my machine while they watched. The spawning of the Enderdragon is the ultimate way to drive a point home. After that was done I was able to sit back and let them have some time to play with the plugins and go on a couple of quests.
Then the moment came that was so rewarding. I got called over to the table as the kids were trying to spawn an Enderdragon.
“Mr Bunio, can you show us again how to give our Minecraft a needle so we can spawn an Enderdragon???”
“Yes, I most certainly can…”
Today we had a the third installment of the Minecraft Code Club. We reviewed some network diagrams and talked about how Minecraft works over the Internet. For the most part the kids got the concepts which I was just overjoyed with. We then looked at a couple of plugins and showed how we can modify the plugins to make the computer do whatever we want.
I was hoping to show them how to compile code today, but that didn’t work out. The kids were full of energy on a Monday and we had a bunch of other items that more than filled up all of the time. We will definitely do that next time. I was so happy that the kids remembered the metaphor I used that a plugin was like giving the computer program a needle. A couple of them even asked how you give the program a needle. Good times. We will definitely compile some code next session.
To all Teachers out there, I would like to convey two heartfelt messages:
1) I will steadfastly support reduced class sizes. Being in a class of great but energetic and inquisitive Grade 4’s gave me a little taste of how your days are. You want to help all of them, but there never is enough time. At the end of the session, I believe everyone had fun but I just thought how much better it would have been if I could have got all of them quick answers. At one point I was hopping between 3 tables that were having issues. They were so energetic and I never want them to lose that passion to frustration. I am going to volunteer to have a couple of follow-up days to just answer questions and have some one on one time – they deserve it!
2) I don’t know how you do it! We just worked on the exercises for 30 minutes and I was exhausted. The preparation you must do to be able to engage and inspire kids for an hour or an entire day has got to be considerable. The patience you are required to manage over 20 kids with differing styles and competencies is amazing. I discussed with a co-worker that a consultant can have no better test of their facilitation skills than a class of Grade 4’s.
To my Information Technology co-workers, if you think clients are tough on errors that occur in demos, you should try managing ‘glitches’ with a group of Grade 4’s. They were as demanding as a room full of vice-presidents – probably more so. But they were also more grateful when something did work. So I guess it all balances out.
To all the Teachers out there. Thank you.